Early Sarasota families: Browning and Whitaker

Browning and Whitaker early families

Stuffed with people and culture today, I can’t imagine Sarasota, Florida, once was a small fishing village with only a few hundred people at the turn of the 20th century. Charles N. Thompson was the manager of Ringling Brothers Circus in the 1890s. He checked out the village and bought a 154 acre track for $1650, then later added 30 acres more. Dresses for dancing cost that much today. Hard to imagine all that land then for the price of one dress now. Sounds like a fairytale.

Ringling Museum of Art

Ringling Museum of Art

Thompson had heard stories from his friend, H.C. Butler, about how wonderful Sarasota was. Butler had built a winter home there 1891. Thompson said that he was interested and would visit the area during the circus winter season. In the winter of 1895, Thompson and his wife traveled to Tampa. They wanted to see what their friend was talking about. Thompson rented a boat and left Tampa Bay for Sarasota Bay. He docked at the Butler dock and stayed with the Butlers while looking the area over.J6_museum

Walkway at Ringlings Art Museum

Walkway at Ringling’s Art Museum

The following winter, Thompson and his wife came to Sarasota and began to build their home. The home would later become a showplace for the Sarasota area. Thompson would talk about his winter home throughout the circus world.J5_museum


Ringling Museum

Being friends with the Ringling Brothers, he would boast of his home in Sarasota.



Another friend joined Thompson in convincing the Ringling Brothers to come to Sarasota. Ralph Caples, Agent for the New York Central Railroad, also owned land in Sarasota. On November 3, 1911, Caples bought the Thompson home and some additional

Bronze sculpture, bull and person tied on top

Bronze bull sculpture (can you see the figure on top of the bull?)

Caples sold the Thompson estate less than three months later to John Ringling. After selling his home, Thompson built a second home next to it. He sold other sections of his land to Charles Ringling in 1915. Ultimately he sold the site of his second home to Charles Ringling so that he could build a home for his daughter, Hester Ringling Sanford.

Ringling's fountain

Ringling’s fountain

Thompson continued to develop his interests in Sarasota until his death in 1918. Although not as well known today as the Ringlings and Caples, Thompson played a pivotal role in the development of early Sarasota.

Sarasota Bay today

Sarasota Bay today




The grounds of the Ringling museum are beautiful, as you can see in the photos above. The museum is filled with 16th century to 21st century art.

There doesn’t appear to be a picture anywhere of the Thompson Home. Ringling has hundreds of photos of  his architecture and collections. T

Mark D. Smith, Archivist
Sarasota History Center

Thank you to Mark D. Smith for much of this information. Sarasota has the reputation of being a top cultural center in Florida. Have you been to Sarasota?



Looks like one of New York City’s top museums, The Frick, could become another mammoth site. One of my favorites, is going bye, bye. Not that they are destroying the existing, but rather stretching its wings. This expansion will eliminate the prized garden on East 70th Street and revamp how this mansion is used.

New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has the power to turn down the proposed expansion that will wipe out

Frick Garden

Frick Garden

the cherished garden with an inelegant addition. Our city has suffered from tearing down the old beautiful buildings from the Gilded Age and replacing them with clumsy additions. Remember the handsome historic Beaux-Arts Penn Station, built in 1910, on West 34th Street and 8th Avenue, by architects McKim, Mead and White? For the sake of New York City’s wing stretching, it was taken down in 1963 and replaced with a modern version in 1969, a characterless space. New York suffers from an ephemeral philosophy. Do we really need to continue to destroy our precious history?



In a recent article in the New York Times, by Michael Kimmelman, he said, “New Yorkers have seen the consequences of trustee restlessness and real estate magical thinking, which destroy or threaten to undo favorite buildings.” Kimmelman goes on to remind us about buildings that had additions stuck onto them, and then the use of the building flopped. “Even the New York Public Library wanted to disembowel its historic building at 42nd Street before thinking better of it.” said Kimmelman.

Dining room

Dining room

Although the Met does have a great decorative arts collection, just think of how Frick gathered his  to decorate his mansion. What the Frick has meant to me is its personal, magnificent, historic works. While studying interior design at the New York School of Interior Design, I spent many hours and days studying, sketching and absorbing history. Housed on Fifth Avenue in his former home, the private collection of Henry Frick is the perfect escape from the larger galleries and museums. This is a great spot to unwind after a long morning walking and of course enjoying the shops, the people and the architecture.



The central conservatory space can be peaceful and relaxing. Try to time your visit with one of the free talks provided. The museum staff is knowledgeable. The audio guide excellent.

In 1910, Frick purchased property at Fifth Avenue and 70th Street to construct a mansion, now known as The Frick Collection. Built to a massive size and covering a full city block, Frick told friends he was building it to “make rival Carnegie’s place look like a miner’s shack.”

Frick collection gallery

Frick collection gallery

To this day, the Frick Collection is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States. It contains many works of art dating from the pre-Renaissance up to the post-Impressionist eras, but in no logical or chronological order. It includes several very large paintings by J. M. W. Turner and John Constable.

Living room

Living room

In addition to paintings, it also contains exhibitions of carpets, porcelain, sculptures, and period furniture. Frick continued to live at both his New York mansion and at Clayton until his death in 1919.

Frick and his wife Adelaide had booked tickets to travel back to New York on the inaugural trip of the Titanic, along with J.P. Morgan. The couple canceled their trip after Adelaide sprained her ankle in Italy and missed the disastrous voyage.

What are you thoughts? Is bigger better? Should they stretch their wings and make another New York behemoth out of this charming historic mansion?



P1090517Alligators, about four feet long, Hmm, maybe six feet for this one, with heads at least a third of their bodies, hang out on the edge of the waterways. They lay on the grassy lagoons basking in the sunlight. Tom and I were strolling by, shocked to see alligators in this place that is supposed to be a hotel/Inn on the bluffs of the Ashley River in South Carolina. I began to walk closer to get a good picture, but I felt a hand on my arm pull me back. “You don’t want to get too close, do you?” asked my hubby Tom. But as I persevered, the alligator picked up his head, and I jumped back. But like lightening, it was gone as it dropped into the water. They didn’t seem as though they were interested in eating us, or anyone else for that matter. At least no one has gone missing . . . yet. P1090166

On the bluffs of the Ashley River, The Inn at Middleton Place, is nestled amongst old pines and centuries old oak trees, trees that are at least eight-hundred years old, with a girth of thirty-three feet, and steps away from the country’s oldest landscaped gardens. It was like being in summer camp, in the South, where alligators prevail. A camp like no other I remember. There are no paved roads or walkways. What appears to be a dense forest at the edge of the river, climbs up to level walkway, I guess that would be called the bluffs.

Middleton-Place-Hotel-Exterior-2-DEFThe organization of the architecture is most unusual in its boxy appearance created by the tall walls of windows, divided by bold, dark grids in each bank of buildings. The buildings appear to be tall boxes juxtaposed to each other. I think the idea was to create an environment of informal elegance.

In the interior, the floor to ceiling windows bring into every room views of the pastoral woodland setting sweeping views over the meandering Ashley River, where the rice plantation culture, not the cotton culture that prevailed in the South, flourished more than 200 years ago. P1090235

P1090545 P1090457 P1090435The stable yard is fascinating. It’s filled with ducks, white geese, peacocks, chickens, roosters, milking cows and horses of all sorts. And soaking in a water pond, two water buffalo, one white, one black, hang out. They follow you with their eyes as you walk by and appear very serious about soaking in the pond. If you happen to be around the stables when they feed the chickens, all the birds come running. It’s hilarious to watch the feathered fellows gather and squawk within their clans, and push their way in to get their share.


The inn is on the property of the Middleton family’s 18th century plantation and is about thirteen miles northwest of Charleston. It feels very secluded, but just outside the property is busy US 61 with  several condominium neighborhoods and the Magnolia Plantation just up the road. People from the wintery North are moving  to the sunny South to escape the harsh winters. Hmm, tempting.


Middleton Place was established in 1741.  Four generations of Middletons’ occupied the estate. Days after the fall of Charleston in 1865, the Main House and flanking buildings were ransacked and burned by a detachment of the 56th New York Regiment on February 22nd. The ground was strewn with books, paintings and other family treasures. William Middleton restored the South Flanker. What was left of the Main House and North Flanker toppled in the Earthquake of 1886.

middleton oak closeup with museumThe restored South Flanker survived and is a museum today. Middleton Place is a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens visited by thousands.

According to the words of the ads, the inn offers guests a unique, hands on approach to experiencing the LowCountry of South Carolina. This secluded inn is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and history while being a short drive from the culture and beauty of historic Charleston. Ground tours include the Middleton Place Gardens, house Museum, and stable yards.

Rice Fields as they were in the 19th century

Rice Fields as they were in the 19th century

P1090251Within this luscious landscape, a five-star restaurant resides. We did indulge, why not? We were a captive audience, and who doesn’t enjoy good food? And drink of course. Plenty of wine choices and beverages of all kinds. Have you ever heard of a Bloody Mary and “sweep the kitchen”? It’s spiced tomato juice with veggies, and liquor of your choice or not.P1090232 P1090222 P1090733 P1090684 P1090172

Why not visit? Wouldn’t this place make a fascinating setting for your next book? Especially you history buffs?

Scroll down for a picture show.

P1090637 P1090650 P1090580 P1090625

Can you see the alligator near the water?

Can you see the alligator near the water?P1090607



Puritan's ships

Puritan’s ships

According to history, about one thousand people embarked for their new home during the year 1630, the first of the eleven years of the “great Puritan migration.” During the time that Charles I attempted to govern England without parliament, nearly twenty thousand men, women, and children were transported to the shores of New England. They went with the idea of establishing churches in which they might worship in the way they preferred.

West Kirby, England the beach

West Kirby, England the beach

When Richard Harrison Sr. was told he could not worship as he pleased, he pondered, planned and paid a tidy sum to remove himself and his family from a land of prejudice. He packed their minimum and walked away from where he, his wife, Sarah Yorke, and his five children were all born, the town of West Kirby, England.

West Kirby, England storm on the coast

West Kirby, England storm on the coast

They would take one of the ships of the Puritans, on 22 June 1635 to the new world. The Harrison children were Richard Jr. born 1620, Thomas, born 1626, John, Samuel, Mary. It was not  long on the ship before the playful children distracted travelers from the difficulties of crowding, unsanitary conditions and unpalatable food.

Maplewood, New Jersey cemetery

Maplewood, New Jersey cemetery

The Harrisons came to New Haven, Connecticut, and then made their way to Branford, Connecticut, where they founded the town in 1644. The original house is gone, but the one built in the eighteenth century still stands on Main Street as a museum. There is a library in the house with the history of the family written by a Captain Thomas Harrison, who fought in the Civil War. At the end of his writing, he wrote that he hoped someone would continue recording the history of the Harrisons. That is what Gertrude Harrison Claus, born 1910, has done. At the age of one hundred and one, she was remarkable–still healthy, happy, and sharp. She went home to her maker in 2011. She was Mom to me and to her children. Everyone else called her Trudi, short for Gertrude. Trudi was my role model, a liberated, Christian woman. I miss her smile, her love, and her interest in our lives.

Plume House, Broad Street, Newark, NJ typical 1725-1730

Typical house of the era in Newark, NJ  1725-1730

One of the brothers, Richard Harrison Jr. and possibly, his sister Mary, left CT for New Jersey. Richard founded Neworke, now Newark, New Jersey. Richard married Sarah Hubbard, had 8 children and became one of 11 founders of Newark, NJ in 1667 and a patentee in 1675. In 1668, he was
one of 6 Newark agents who negotiated its boundary with Elizabeth, NJ. He also was an original town committee member and town surveyor. Newark was founded after 6 years of communication with Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam. There is a plaque in the center of town with Richard Harrison’s name as the founder. I saw the plaque. Richard’s children with his wife Sarah Hubbard had six children, Joseph, born1649, Samuel, born 1652, Benjamin, born 1655, George, born 1658, Daniel, born 1661, and Mary, born 1664.

Skagway Presbyterian Church, Alaska. Founded by Norman B. Harrison c. 1896

Skagway Presbyterian Church, Alaska. Founded by Norman B. Harrison c. 1898

There is more about the family. Tom’s grandfather, Norman B. Harrison, took his organ, his wife and his children to Skagway, Alaska, in 1898 and founded the Presbyterian Church there. Mom Trudi and our friends Jean and El visited a some years ago and verified they saw his name on a plaque. Later, he came back to the homeland to the state of Washington and founded the

University Presbyterian Church, Seattle, WA Founded by Norman B. Harrison

University Presbyterian Church, Seattle, WA Founded by Norman B. Harrison

University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. The church is still there. Norman’s writings were about different books of the Bible. I treasure the “The End. Re-Thinking the Revelation”, signed by him to his daughter Gertrude Harrison Claus, on December 15, 1954.

Trudi’s brother, Everett Harrison, was one of the founders of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He too wrote books about the Bible and like his father Norman, was a scholar.  For anyone that knows Princeton Theological Seminary, Norman B. Harrison’s name is on the cornerstone.

Thomas Harrison Claus

Thomas Harrison Claus

Trudi Harrison Claus and her son Thomas Harrison Claus, both direct decedents of Richard Harrison Jr. and Mary Harrison, scoured cemeteries in New Jersey. Tom said they found ancestors in a cemetery in West Caldwell, NJ. We never looked in Connecticut. I would like to do that, amidst the beautiful fall foliage.

Another bit of information—Thomas Harrison Claus’s father, Wilbur Claus, a biochemist, discovered Cheerio’s for General Mills, and Tom, also a biochemist, discovered a drug for type 2 diabetes, but it never got to the market.

Tom has three brothers, diluting the Harrison name with Claus, and so it goes. We lose all the Harrisons’ in marriages and births. It becomes almost impossible to find all the linkages. But Mom Trudi said the early Harrisons’ married Smiths, Baldwins, Pearsons’ and others. And by the way, we were told that this end of the Harrison’s are connected to William and his nephew Benjamin Harrison, America’s past presidents.

Should anyone be interested in touching base with me about the Harrison Heritage, just leave a comment with your contact info, and I will get back to you.

First Presbyterian Church of Skagway is the home of God’s disciples who

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway, Alaska

are called to follow Christ in this unique Alaska setting by living out their mission statement: “As children of God we embrace our call to share the Good News of the Gospel through worship, fellowship and open doors providing a nurturing environment as we grow in Christ and minister to our greater community.”

African Children's Choir performance at Skagway Presbyterian Church

African Children’s Choir performance at Skagway Presbyterian Church

African Children’s choir: The choir performed three times in Skagway during this past Labor Day weekend -. at the First Presbyterian Church, at the Skagway School. All concerts are free admission. There are CDs available. The African Children’s Choir™ is made up of some of the neediest and most vulnerable children in their countries. Many have lost one or both parents to poverty or disease. The African Children’s Choir™ helps these children break away from the everyday cycle of poverty and hopelessness. Before being selected to join the Choir, children, generally aged between 7 and 11 attend Music for Life camps. These camps are fun and stimulating environments that provide a break from the daily hardships the young children face at home. Children selected to tour will spend approximately five months at the Choir Training Academy in Kampala, Uganda. Here the children learn the songs and dances, attend school, play and attend Sunday School at a local church. Check out their website: for more information.

So, Captain Thomas Harrison, who wrote in that Branford book was an ancestor and related to my husband Thomas Harrison Claus.

Any Harrison’s around that are direct descendents of the Richard Harrison Jr. of Newark, NJ?



Bilboa, Spain

Bilbao, Spain

Frank Owen Gehry, CC (born Frank Owen Goldberg; February 28, 1929) is a Canadian-American Pritzker Prize-winning architect based in Los Angeles.

His buildings, including his private residence, have become tourist attractions. His works are cited as being among the most important works of contemporary architecture in the 2010 World Architecture Survey, which led Vanity Fair to label him as “the most important architect of our age”.

The tower at 8 Spruce Street in lower Manhattan which was completed in February 2011 has a stainless steel and glass exterior and is 76 stories high.

The tower at 8 Spruce Street in lower Manhattan which was completed in February 2011 has a stainless steel and glass exterior and is 76 stories high.

Gehry’s best-known works include the titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, photo above; MIT Ray and Maria Stata Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles; Experience Music Project in Seattle; Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis; Dancing House in Prague; the Vitra Design Museum and the museum MARTa Herford in Germany; the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; the Cinémathèque française in Paris; and 8 Spruce Street in New York City. But it was his private residence in Santa Monica, California, that jump-started his career, lifting it from the status of “paper architecture”—a phenomenon that many famous architects have experienced in their formative decades through experimentation almost exclusively on paper before receiving their first major commission in later years. Gehry is also the designer of the future Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.

Casa Danzante, Prague--dancing couple Fred Estaire and Ginger Rogers

Casa Danzante, Prague–Inspiration dancing couple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Much of Gehry’s work falls within the style of Deconstructivism, which is often referred to as post-structuralist in nature for its ability to go beyond current modalities of structural definition. In architecture, its application tends to depart from modernism in its inherent criticism of culturally inherited givens such as societal goals and functional necessity. Because of this, unlike early modernist structures, Deconstructivist structures are not required to reflect specific social or universal ideas, such as speed or universality of form, and they do not reflect a belief that form follows function. Gehry’s own Santa Monica residence is a commonly cited example of deconstructivist architecture, as it was so drastically divorced from its original context, and in such a manner as to subvert its original spatial intention.


Reception of Gehry’s work is not always positive. Art historian Hal Foster reads Gehry’s architecture as, primarily, in the service of corporate branding. Criticism of his work includes complaints that the buildings waste structural resources by creating functionless forms, do not seem to belong in their surroundings and are apparently designed without accounting for the local climate.

Reasoning has it his work is about possibilities… Form follows function is one of the long-standing slogans of modern architecture. Its use was pioneered by turn-of-the-century skyscraper architect Louis Sullivan, complemented by Adolf Loos’s 1908 assertion that ‘Ornament is crime’, adapted by Frank Lloyd Wright and adopted by Modernists and Bauhaus desginers such as Mies van der Rohe (‘Less is more’), Walter Groupius, etc. Originally meant to be defiantly honest – let the form of a building or product result from its function and no more – and anti-style, it eventually evolved into yet another set of un-interrogated conventions, and is now being both challenged and re-worked. Clearly seen in Gehry’s work.


Marques de Riscal Winery

Marques de Riscal winery is the oldest and most traditional of the Rioja.

Architecture students the world over are inspired by Gehry’s work. His work is think-out-of-the-box philosophy.

Does Gehry’s work inspire your thoughts to change the world in some way? Think also of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, so many others. How will you change the way we think, make the world a better place? Are you a mover, a shaker?

Parts cited from: Frank Gehry - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Location: Norwalk, Connecticut
National Landmark

Lockwood exterior 1867

Over the top, Lockwood Mathews mansion is over the top, bigger, better, more complex and complete than other later similar homes. It was first, before the Newport Cottages, before Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine, before any of the homes in this blog. Mr Lockwood was a genius. He heated his house with radiant (floor) heating with the most amazing furnace in the basement. (Looks Steampunk.) Indoor plumbing . . . with sinks in every room. And a bowling alley in the basement. In the tradition of the Second Empire, this home was built in 1867 by Legrand Lockwood.

Library as it was when the Mathews family lived there after 1873

The Connecticut estate, about an hour outside of the city, was the summer home of the prominent railroad magnet and shipping mogul. It was later home to the Mathews family for 75 years until 1938 when Florence Mathews, last member of the family died. Now known as Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum, the estate originally had 30 acres of land overlooking the Sound. Slowly the land was sold off leaving a small parcel showing a 44,000-square-foot main house, a carriage house, a Victorian-style caretaker’s cottage. Can you imagine? You must see this one. You can get more history and information easily at:

Library as it was when the Lockwood family lived there 1870

Lockwood Photos Courtesy of the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum 

Unlike the other noteworthy homes below that are for sale, Lockwood is not, but is open with tours to the public.

Location: New York City
Listing price: $14.95 million
The last remaining detached single-family house in Manhattan.
Photo: Curbed

The cities too had their fair share of elaborate mansions built in the Gilded Age, but thanks to development in the ensuing hundred odd years since, few survive. In NYC, the Schinasi Mansion, on Riverside Drive not far from Columbia University, is the last remaining detached single-family house in Manhattan. The 12,000-square-foot mansion retains almost all of its historic detail, including amazing coffered ceilings and a Prohibition-era trap door that leads to a tunnel that once extended all the way to the river. The 35-room marble mansion was built for “Turkish tobacco baron” Morris Schinasi.

Location: Mount Kisco, N.Y.
Listing price:
$26.5 million

Devonshire, with its 101 acres, was owned by the Vanderbilts.
Photo: Curbed

In the tradition of the English country house, sprawling homes began to spring up in Westchester, north of New York City, in the mid-1800s. This Mount Kisco, N.Y. estate, about an hour outside of the city, was built in 1901 for J. Borden Harriman, of the prominent American family, and was later owned by the Vanderbilts, and then ended up in the hands of a “prominent European family.” Known as Devonshire, the estate includes 101 acres of land, a 21,000-square-foot main house, a “carriage house, a Victorian-style guest cottage, and a caretaker’s house.” The garage, which fits 10 cars, has a washing station and hydraulic lift. The main house features a grand staircase, eight bedrooms, a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, “gold-leaf moldings, wood and antique mirrored panelling, and marble floors.”

Location: Miami, Fla.
Listing price:
$4.2 million

The Helmsleys’ penthouse was converted to an Arabian palace.
Photo: Sotheby’s

America’s second Gilded Age, the 1980s, produced many lavish residences, but perhaps none are so emblematic of the spirit of the decade as this Miami penthouse, built for notorious real estate magnates Leona and Harry Helmsley. At one point the Helmsleys controlled the Empire State Building, along with a string of NYC hotels, but by 1989, Harry was very ill and Leona was doing time for tax evasion. The couple never moved into the Helmsley Penthouse, completed in 1981, and sold it off to Saudi Shiek Saoud Al-Shaalan. The sheik transformed the modern apartment into an Arabian palace over two years, with the help of 27 Moroccan artisans and craftsmen.
Old-world-style American palaces
by Rob Bear, Yahoo Real Estate, May 1, 2012
Photos above provided by: Curbed

So, what are these places all about? Those years around the industrial revolution raised Robber Barons, using everyone else to make themelves rich and show off their new found money. Those spaces that seem unusable are show-off spaces. Victoriana, an era of more is better, bigger is better, periodically carried over to the 21st century.

The pendulum swings back and forth. Everything comes and goes, especially money. Nothing much seems to have changed, has it?


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